My youngest son is readying for another adventure. One that involves rolled up clothes in duffel bags, a passport, and another continent. He can’t wait.
By now, he’s at the airport. Or on a plane, happily off into the wild blue that called his father, his grandfathers.
Given history, it will be at least a year until I see him again, probably longer. He points out we have electronic assists now — FaceTime, Skype, email & texts. I nod like the good mother I want to be; I do not howl like a banshee because he will be 24 hours away in a time zone 18 hours ahead.
My beginner’s heart knows that this is attachment, as well as a strong desire for things to be — somehow — different. And yet this grown man still my baby is who he is, and much of that is an adventurer. He has been back from his last peregrinations only months — fewer than six, to be exact. To ask for things to be different is tantamount that he be different.
My sons are good people, and good sons. They call, they talk. They share their lives in bits & pieces, better than than their father did with his mother. Certainly better than my own father did with his. I’m grateful daily for who they have grown into, these men who are still, somewhere, my blond, blue-eyed children.
Each of them has found his own way — and they are different ways, although they share many similarities. Each is a dreamer, willing to work to realise those dreams. And each is flexible, bending to the winds that shape lives. And each is far away, with one going even further.
I used to whine (and yep…I whine) that one son was on one coast & the other on the opposite. Now? That sounds great. One will be on one coast and the other on …. another continent. The heart is finding this kind of knowledge hard to accept.
And again, I remind myself that attachment to what I want is not their destinies, if one may use such an old-fashioned word. I hesitate to say that others have ‘destinies,’ although I believe in my own. Right now? It’s learning how to live in the bittersweet space of packed bags & passports, someone else’s dreams. It’s a good exercise in beginner’s heart, this revisit of how to let go of expectation and embrace even the melancholy of goodbye, knowing how long it will be before I can hug my youngest son. It’s just not easy.
This is the way I always remember my father. He was much younger than I am now — 20 years or so. Today is his birthday: he would be 99, were he still with us. Although (of course) he is, for his four daughters. Whenever we get together, old stories join us. Sometimes even new ones, when one of us has spoken to an older cousin, or an aunt. Stories of heroism, of pranks, of hijinks that bordered on craziness.
This past few weeks, looking after my grandson, I thought often of my father. Not because my grandson is so much like Daddy; it’s really too early for a not-quite-three-year-old to be like anyone other than himself. But because he reminded me that once I too was small, and dependent on the understanding of those foreign creatures, adults.
My father didn’t speak daughter very well. He was a man’s man, as they used to say: drawn to hunting, guns, sports & other culturally defined pursuits. A Golden Gloves boxer, he was strong & knew it. But he was also very gentle w/ littles. And he read omnivorously — sometimes sharing Kipling with me, sometimes quizzing me on my newest Golden Book encyclopaedia volume. He could (& did) pick up all four girls in one arm, and my mother in the other. Not often! But he could, & did. He also could (& did) outshoot most people: rifle, pistol, shotgun. My bedroom was filled w/ trophies he won over the years.
Most important to me, however, was that I knew I was safe in Daddy’s care. When a scary movie left me with nightmares for days, only sleeping by Daddy would comfort me. I knew that nothing could scare Daddy, nor would he let anything get me. A man who made the history books, who returned from war w/ medals out the wazoo, & the respect of everyone he knew? No ghost could get through Daddy.
Nor could the normal nightmares of our peripatetic lives break through his protection. Daddy was my own superhero, so it didn’t matter that as I grew we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on politics, on history, on much. We would reunite on the other side of young adulthood, as I moved into my own parenting years.
This month, as my grandson grieved for his parents who were on the other side of the country at a wedding, wailing that he missed them missed them missed them, I remembered how my father cared for us. How he could pick me up when I was fearful and the fear would fall away from me like water droplets. How gentle he was with my own son, so many years after my childhood. And how our need for reassurance, for safe, never wanes. We only place it in deep storage, behind the façade of adulthood.
My grandson needed a lot of affirmation the week we watched over him. He needed constant reassurance that things were okay, and that his parents had neither abandoned him nor forgotten him. I held him often, and we talked and played for hours. This wasn’t my father’s MO, although he became much easier with littles as a grandfather. But his legacy lives warm within me: the knowledge that a child needs to feel safe. That even an adult requires the affirmation, the loving recognition, of this vulnerability. That, my father gave me whenever I asked. And so many many times I didn’t need to.
I miss you Daddy. Happy Birthday.
It’s been a while. I plead flu, travel, a rambunctious grandson of not-quite-three, and life in general. Somehow, when people spoke of retirement, I had thought it would be both emptier of duties and more peaceful. (I was misinformed…)
I also had a birthday, in my favourite month: National Poetry Month. I’ve been reading & writing & thinking poetry since I was verrrrry small. Probably as long as I’ve been able to think — listening to the rhyme in song, the music in speech. Noticing that my Grandma Skidmore had a Southern lilt & cadence to her words, while my Grandmother Britton spoke with the clipped authority of her teaching background. Hearing in my adoptive family members — amahs & elderly sitters & ersatz aunts & uncles — the inflections of Việtnamese & French & Thai & poor white Oklahoma.
It’s probably my drug of choice, language: I can follow an unraveling skein of etymology as if it was a treasure map, leading somewhere magical. The derivation of a word, its connection to another, the threadlike hairs that bring one linguistic family into contact with another. How Indo-European & Aryan underlay both Sanskrit and English, to the infinite gain of everyone.
Now, I’m recovering slowly from a bad bout of flu — fever high enough to ‘sunburn’ me from the inside out! I haven’t had that happen since I was a little kid! And a cough to rattle windows. (No kidding: the car window rattled!) But despite the flu, and the cough, and snow on my actual birthday, I held my grandson for hours. And was able to baby my beloved son & DIL. AND I saw my favourite sister-in-law, who drove up w/ my brother-in-law just to be w/ us for my birthday. How cool is that??
My youngest sister & her son took me to Irish pub brunch, and we talked about BOOKS! And ideas! And the things that have excited me for decades — these long decades of work & play that are a map all around me. While I basked in how very lucky I am to be a writer, and have at least some words for love.
Missing two weeks of a blog is HUGE — entire lives come & go in the space of two weeks. My new grand-nephew was born on my birthday (what a present!!); a dear friend’s mother passed just before. The cycle of life is also the cycle of death, and we ignore this to our own loss. But like with meditation, & following the (mostly reliable) breath, we return to our focus. And the thing about being pretty sick — & thus fragile & tired — is that you have to prioritise. You have to remember what’s important. And it may well not be vacuuming! It may be, instead, making tea for the iced tea you need to push for fluids. It may be feeding the birds, so you can sit quietly in the breakfast room & watch them draw ribbons of colour through the air. The goldfinches are brilliant — new-minted.
But you can’t focus on loss. It’s not productive (which is not the same as grieving — that is necessary). You have to move forward, allowing things fall into a more proper hierarchy of importance: you fix food (we need to eat!). You make tea, or cappuccino. You watch the birds, and you smooth the sheets for a nap. You write thank-you notes to the wonderful folks who remembered your natal day, and remember your real focus. You reorient to what you have gained: a reminder you’re loved, the ephemeral nature of life, the beauty of birth.
And it’s enough. It’s absolutely enough. It just takes remembering. And a return of focus.
It’s National Poetry Month again! I adore National Poetry Month. For one thing, it’s April, and that’s my birthday month. So I get presents (which I also adore). But it’s also an entire month when I can talk about poetry, write about poetry, admit to loving it, and be totally nerdy about it. And no one bugs me. Well, not tooo much, at least.
This year I’m off to a slow start, as I ready for a trip to see the grandson, and try to leave the house in decent order for my sister, who’s dog/cat/house-sitting. Given that I would rather do almost anything than clean house, there was a lot of catch-up…
People often ask me why I love poetry, as if it was some kind of slightly perverse affliction. Usually I shrug & say ‘Why not?’ But since I’m among friends, I’ll confess: poetry has saved my life. More than once. And I mean that in the sincerest of ways.
When I have been as immured in the darkest of self-imposed prisons, when my life has seemed worthless & not worth continuing, some poet has always been there to lead me back to light. A lyric of a song — not only the music, but the words like a message; a mantra of a phrase; even the half-remembered lines from a dense graduate class… These have been signposts and maps and stars. I owe poets more than I can say. That’s why poetry.
I toyed with the idea of giving you some of my own poems, but decided instead to link to the amazing poetry of others. Some famous, others not-so. I’m beginning with a poet who is pretty well-known in schools, but never has achieved the popular appeal I’d like for him to know. Poet Robert Hayden, the first African American to be appointed as ‘consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress‘ — now known as the US Poet Laureate position — is one of my very favourite poets. I have a kind of fangirl/author crush on him. His poetry is both accessible and rewarding of deeper study. He seems a great poet to begin with.
Here’s his famous poem Those Winter Sundays. Enjoy!
Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house, Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?